(Emily Wilding Davison. June 1913)
The reason for your being here
is out of sight. They can’t be seen –
your Cause’s colours sewn inside
your decent coat: white, violet, green.
The camera sees the moment you began to die:
the jockey, trim in silks, is doll-like
on the grass and seems asleep;
his mount is spraddled on its back;
its useless hooves flail at the sky.
Your spinning, flower-trimmed hat
is stopped, distinct, mid-flight;
your hair’s still not come down;
you’re frozen, inches from the ground;
your boots are neatly buttoned,
take small steps on the arrested air.
You’re stopped in time. No sound, no texture, no sour odour
of bruised grass and earth. Just
silence and the alchemy of light.
How did you comprehend
the shock of heat, huge muscle, hair,
in that white moment
when the dark came down?
The camera cannot tell;
it’s business neither truth nor lies.
It shows a fallen horse. A woman falling. A crowd
in hats and blazers staring down a long perspective;
the field intent upon the distant fairy icing
grandstand. The waving flags. The finish line.
Until the image blurs, dissolves in silver flowers,
it’s there on celluloid in shades of grey;
the camera only says that in that instant
you are dying, and everyone has looked away.
Thousands of people thought it was worth being arrested, imprisoned, beaten, starved, force-fed, to be killed, in order that you and I can vote. Which is why, when I hear anyone say it’s waste of time feel something more than anger. And when they say it’s a waste of time, that it changes nothing.
The social contract that we’ve lived with since 1945 is being dismantled in an unprecedented way. Did you know a Prime Minister (and, who knows, government ministers) can simply not bother to turn up before a Parliamentary committee? Me neither. Try to think of you or me saying we’re to busy to turn up in a magistrates court to give evidence, or too busy to turn up for jury service, or too busy to send our kids to school, or too busy to fill in tax returns…..Jeez. We’ve got a government that has declared itself unnaccountable, and is protected by a collusive media owned by self-serving oligarchs and plutocrats. And bastards. They’re selling your hospitals, making the ownership of your own labour a matter of legal dispute by crippling the unions, selling your local schools to trough-swilling profit-making firms who you can not question, screwing up your children’s education with imposed tests that prove nothing, that hinder learning and deprofessionalise teachers. They’re treating doctors as though they are disposable wage-fodder rather than the most-highly qualified people in the land.
What will it take to get the people of England to protest? You don’t have to go on the streets with mayhem and burning in mind. You can go and vote. It should be compulsory if you want to live in a mutually dependent society. But since it isn’t, just do it anyway. Take a friend. Take all your friends. make a day of it. Have a street party. But vote. Ordinary people were deported, imprisoned and killed just so you can.
Remember Emily Wilding Davison.